Monsterology 120: 30 Days of Night

First off apologies to those who came here earlier. Had a bit of a technical mix-up and posted my final project rather than my review.

Well, here we are monsterologists. Our last field study. It’s been an honor learning and growing beside you. You should be happy to know that this last venture into the field of monsterology feels a little familiar. It combines the freezing setting of Snow and The Thing with vicious Matheson-esque vampires. Our final trek takes us to Barrow, Alaska in Steven Niles and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night.

I’m torn on Templesmith’s art. On one hand it’s beautiful and its murky water colors perfectly capture the bleak and remote settings of Barrow. When that art is focused on terrified townsfolk hiding for their lives or blood-soaked vampires, it brings the scene to life and you feel a chill at your back. It’s beautiful when it catches still life or static images and you’re rooted in that scene.

When he used it to try and convey action scenes though I felt like the art style hindered it more than it helped it. The images were so dark and blurry that most of the time I couldn’t tell what was happening in the scene. Likewise, the decision to do most of the vampires’s speech bubbles in the way they chose sometimes strained my eyes. Luckily, I was reading on my Kindle so I was able to zoom it rather than squint to try and make out some of the jumbled lettering.

The romance between the two sheriffs seemed pretty real, but pretty much every other character fell flat. I honestly can’t pick out one townsperson from the other besides Eben and his wife. The vampires felt pretty stereotypical too, upstart new-aged vampire and old school badass, creepy little girl vampires, nothing really new added. Don’t even get me started on the characters from New Orleans. Did we ever find anything out about them besides that they’re mother and son? What was their stake in all this?

The consistencies of the vampires also seemed misbalanced. Vicente was able to smack around a vampire, and since he had in Barrow since the beginning of the slaughter, I think its safe to assume he’s been a vampire longer than Eben. Yet somehow Eben is able to defeat him and stare down nineteen other vampires into leaving after being a vampire for about five minutes.

How’s he able to maintain his sanity? That one guy who got scratched turned against the humans easy, but Eben with blood injected in him (and we have to assume that with vampires, a transformation through blood has to be stronger than from a scratch) is able to eventually wallop the head vampire and protect his town? Then control his hunger until the sun comes up?

I’m still not sure how they killed that vampire in their jail cell, did his wife blow that one’s head off or something? It felt like the series needed to be longer than three issues. I didn’t feel like 30 days had passed, barely a week, and it could have addressed these other problem I had too.

That said, 30 Days of Night did impress me with its deeper meaning that I don’t usually wade across in comics or graphic novels. There’s a lot of rhetoric in our society about fighting fire with fire. The problem is if you try to fight monsters with that methodology, you become monsters yourself. Eben does this, becoming a vampire to protect his wife and his town. And after ridding his town of monsters, Eben does the noble thing and sacrifices himself to the sun. He knows he’s a monster now and there’s no longer a place for him, he rid his town of monsters, even himself.

30 Days of Night was a mixed bag for me. Few of the characters will stick with you for long and the plot will have you going “huh?” and “wait, what?” more than once. However, it takes a unique approach to vampires in terms of setting and wraps it up with beautiful art and a resounding theme. It’s definitely worth taking a look at.

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Monsterology 119: Relic

Well monsterologists, it’s been a ride, but here we are at our penultimate trench. Only this time not so much a trench. More like a museum. But there’s something more sinister than Ben Stiller lurking these nightly hallowed halls of learning. These trenches take us to Relic, the first in a seventeen series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Also a movie I vaguely recall from my childhood starring Tom Sizemore.

Tom Sizemore and Kevin Dillon. Now that would be a dream team.

I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the book’s style, especially in the beginning. In essence the book opens up with three different prologues, even though they try to pass it off as just one. All of these prologues are separated by at least a year, and we hop the heads of five different characters. One of these categories we don’t even learn the name of, he’s simply “the kid,” even after his brother disappeared and we’re stuck in his POV. There was another time too where the authors refer to one character simply as “the commander.” This grew really tiresome especially seeing how most of the other characters in the squad were named, or at least given a callsign. In short, if you’re going to drive around in someone’s head, give them a name.

Another thing that annoyed me about the narrative was how often the authors used the word “suddenly.” There were a couple instances where the word appeared a couple times on the same page, and they relied on it way too heavily for their action scenes.

I also wasn’t a fan of the recreated scientific print outs and journals they included in the book. I can understand why they did it, it looks like they did a lot of research for these segments, and it seems accurate enough. But I’m a layman, and I found myself glossing over these reports like some of Tolkien’s lengthier songs. The fact that the book had several characters who were scientists, who put the results in terms I could understand after reading the results, made me wonder why these printouts were even there in the first place. Just have them get the report and let them sum it up for me, I don’t need to see the report.

And yet despite all the issues I had with their style, Preston and Child actually managed to write a well-paced book. I was caught up in at times and each scene built into the next one. There’s an air of mystery throughout the book and especially with the creature. The beast is never really revealed in full detail. We get glimpses of it, the smell always proceeds it which helped immerse us in the scenes more, but like Jaws this was a game of cat and mouse. Instead of a monster we get a shadowed outline, red eyes, or three-fingered claws, and yet this worked and fit with the rest of the narrative.

Another strong aspect of the book were the characters, although I felt that the authors sometimes tried to get a little too clever with their names. Margo is a capable female character, even though the subplot about her dead father seemed a bit pigeonholed. Professor Frock is eccentric, bound to a wheelchair, but still brilliant and an integral part of solving the mystery. Smithback is a smart-mouthed reporter who manages to walk just the right balance of attention-seeking and good hearted. And Lieutenant D’Agosta is the perfect gruff, blue collar, odd-coupled match for the southern gentleman and eccentric Agent Pendergast.

It’s not too surprising that the books that follow revolved Pendergast. His eccentrics and prowess as a detective echo Sherlock Holmes, a comparison D’Agosta notices almost immediately. With his flair and deep-southern accent, I couldn’t help but hear his voice as a cross between Truman Capote and Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday from Tombstone. Pendergast does run the risk of coming off as a Gary Stu at times, and I don’t care for the big game hunting background to the character, but the large cast of characters helped mitigate this. Like D’Agosta, I found it entertaining to sit back and watch him work.

Overall the book wasn’t bad once I got past its flaws, but it didn’t quite sit with me as a work of horror. I know a few people in the program who love this series, and one or two of them are mystery writers. And that’s what this book felt more like, not so much horror, but a mystery book with a monster. Maybe if I had read with these expectations in the beginning I would have enjoyed it more. That said, the book did leave me with an impression flattering enough that I’m willing to check out the sequels.

Monsterology 118: The Blob (1988)

        The field of monsterology has taken us to some exotic locations. The Artic, London, even outer space. This time though our subject takes us to the quaint stylings of Anytown, USA, circa the late 80’s. The monster in question falls from outer space, but the sinister machinations of the government are the true foe of The Blob. Only one man can save us, our hopes rest on the shoulders of….a young Johnny Drama from Entourage.

"Poseidon" Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals

            ….crap.

            First off, I do have to applaud The Blob for getting to the story relatively fast. We do have to put up with about ten minutes of the movie revealing the setting and our cast of characters wrecking motorcycles and buying condoms, but then the Blob falls from outer space and attacks a homeless person. After that it’s all exponentially growing monster mayhem. This may be in part due to its run time, it’s only about an hour and a half long, so they couldn’t really afford to delay the story.

            The characters in the movie aren’t really anything to write home about. They’re all borrowed stereotypes that probably were interchangeable with the original film from the 1950’s. Football star, cheerleader girlfriend, rebel with a heart of gold, slightly incompetent deputy, the list goes on. However, all my jokes about Kevin Dillon aside, I thought he did bring a bit of charm to the role of Brian Flagg. With his long semi-permed hair, leather jacket, motorcycle, and a drawl somewhere between Christian Slater and Willem Dafoe, there were a few times when I accepted him as cool despite how corny the movie is.

            The movie also had some shakeups in the cast from the way it was shot too. It wasn’t on the same scale as Godzilla, but the way the movie opened up I figured Paul would be around a lot longer than he was. Instead he’s the Blob’s second victim. It almost felt like they originally were going to have Paul in the starring role, but they were so impressed with Dillon they decided to focus on his character instead. Likewise, based on the way and the sheriff and deputy acted, I definitely expected the former to be around longer than the latter. The movie even breaks a golden rule of horror movies of this time and kills a kid onscreen.

            Despite those twists though, the movie is a mess. It’s corn on the cob smothered in nacho cheese, especially with the jokes and the characters. Characters go to a hospital with only one doctor in charge, and for some reason the town has a convenient snowmaker lying around, even though I never saw or heard anyone mention a ski resort. The Blob’s origins were a sign of changing times, one of distrust of the government, but came off as hokey, far-fetched, and clumsily executed.

The Blob does have some saving graces though, and that is its effects. There were some pretty gruesome scenes at work here, not on the same par as The Thing or Alien, but brutal all the same. People dissolved under his bulk and the disfiguring effects were on point. And while the Blob is basically just a giant slime ball, he did look fairly realistic for the most part, even if he reminded me a lot of the slime from Ghostbusters II. Perhaps its worst failing was at the end when it grew large enough to chase the town people, and the line around it reminded me of Luke Skywalker being dropped into the rancor pit.

            Despite all this though, I actually enjoyed the film, and it does have some charm. Don’t’ get me wrong, as a movie it’s nothing special, the jokes and characters will make you cringe on more than one occasion. However, I did find myself jumping more than once and the effects are almost universally ghastly and horrifying. The Blob isn’t a classic, but it has that mix of competency against a backdrop of story and character flaws that developed a decent cult following. It’s definitely a movie worth checking out, just make sure to keep your expectations low. Come for the monster, stay for the cheese and corn.

Monsterology 117: The Call of Cthulhu

Hang in there, monsterolgoists! I know we’ve lost a couple of people. Some are locked up in a necropolis, and some are probably monster chow back at that weird art gallery we just came from. But we must persist, we must carry on for them! This is it, the last trench, the one belonging to the elder being from another world, the head elder one, Cthulhu. The Call of Cthulhu is where the Cthulhu mythos that Lovecraft is famous for gets its name, so all our hardships are going to be totally worth it.

            ….

            If you’re reading this, chances are you read the other two blog entries from this week. Remember how I said two trenches back that sometimes the style of older pieces hinders its readability? This is exactly what I’m talking about. In an attempt to and pass it off as a factual account, the protagonist is a nephew of a deceased uncle who is piecing together documents left in his uncle’s belongings. In doing so it makes the narrative removed from the protagonist and I get no real sense of urgency or dread from his experience.

I realize this is a common technique from the time, and Poe was a major influence on Lovecraft. One thing that Poe is credited for is submitting fictional tales in the guise of actual journals and getting them published in scientific publications. It may be a hallmark of the style of the time, but it has not aged well, at least not for me. Sometimes an audiobook version of older works can help mitigate this, especially with a really talented narrator, but I read and listened to both. The narrator in the audio version did a terrific job capturing the mood and pace of the work, but even still, I felt myself nodding off.

            This style also has a nasty habit of diluting the character’s experience. I know next to nothing about the protagonist except he’s the nephew of one of the cult’s victims. Likewise, I have nothing to really relate about the investigator whose responsible for the second part of the story. The part that I’m most attached to is the third and final part, with the Norwegian captain, but in terms of character I still don’t really feel anything for him. And even though the protagonist realizes that the cult is after him by the end, it felt like there was little build up or rising tension to that conclusion.

            One thing that’s probably the most damning about the story is its length. It goes on a bit longer than Lovecraft’s other works, and the longer it goes on, the more its flaws show. The narrative style probably wouldn’t have been so bad, or at least so noticeable, if it had only gone on for about ten pages. And that’s probably what I found most aggravating about The Call of Cthulhu, it only needed to be ten pages. The story comes alive finally during the Norwegian captain’s encounter with Cthulhu, and I wished I had gotten that to a lot sooner.

            All that being said, this is Lovecraft we’re talking about, so the story is not without some merit. The descriptions of Cthulhu are vivid, so much so that his likeness was easily captured and can be seen in a lot of media today. This was also fairly original in that it gave rise to the Cthulhu mythos, which has made Lovecraft endure even to this day. Other than that, there is not much for me to recommend in this story, and its quite a trudge to get to the good bits. Even Lovecraft himself found The Call of Cthulhu to be somewhere in the middle of his body of work, so I feel less dissapointed that this story didn’t resonate with me like I hoped it would.

Monsterology 116: Pickman’s Model

Alright monsterologists, bear with me now. Try to keep your provisions handy and your sanity in check. We’re rolling straight from one trench into another. We’ve seen the human side of monsters in The Outsider, but now we’re going to check out the monstrous side of humanity. Just how do artists manage to make something look so life like, even when their subjects are not from this world? Pickman’s Model may have an answer to this question, but you may not like it.

            The style for this one isn’t as smooth as the The Outsider but neither is it as tedious as other works *cough* Call of Cthulhu. This time the narrative is delivered through a conversation with only one side of it taken down. It’s out of the ordinary for Lovecraft, but it seemed to have a decent pace in the beginning. The narrator also comes off as a bit more blue collar and less high collared than Lovecraft’s traditional academic protagonists. Sure, he’s no everyman, but he’s not a snob either, he’s a World War I vet and a horror fan. He also pauses to have a drink to steady his nerves on occasion making him feel real, so does the phobia he’s left with after the encounter with Pickman. However, the fact that he’s able to talk for so long with minimum interruptions makes this seems unrealistic. Especially when he’s able to recount Pickman’s dialogue perfectly for paragraphs on end.

            The character who probably comes off the most coherently though is the antagonist, Pickman. He’s never described physically but from his words and actions you get a real sense of who he is as a person; and he ain’t great. He has an inflated sense of worth due to his talents, which are not lacking any in the slightest. While reading it I sometimes wonder if this was Lovecraft’s manifestation of his own process. His pulpy body of work was not held in high esteem by academics of his day, and Pickman has utter disdain for the opinions of the local art community. Pickman seems to cherish the grotesque and takes joy from terrifying his audience. It’s qualities that any horror writer wants to emulate, but maybe with a degree or two less of maniacal.

            Once again Lovecraft manages to immerse me in his world. While the alleys are not as entombing as the tower in The Outsider, what managed to keep me in the story were the narrator’s description of Pickman’s paintings. Once again he relies on indescribable from time to time, and the narrator’s reaction is sometimes used to capture the true horror of the pieces, but I was able to visualize some of these paintings quite well.

            Overall the story becomes a pick predictable, especially when you understand the concept of the title. After we learn Pickman is an artist, we know what the word “model” is referring to. It comes as no great surprise when its revealed that the monsters Pickman has been drawing came from photos of actual beings, and not his own imagination. It’s kind of a letdown that the monsters aren’t ever seen off the paintings, and at best they’re heard in the background. A six-shooter is also all that’s needed to dispose of them, or at least keep them at bay.

            Over all, Pickman’s Model isn’t a bad piece of old timey pulp horror. The narrative doesn’t drag in too many places, and there’s a little bit of symbology going on too. The deeper the protagonist goes into Pickman’s secret gallery, the darker and more grotesque the artwork, acting as a metaphor for Pickman’s imagination. It’s not the crown jewel of Lovecraft’s work, but it’s a fun read all the same.

Monsterology 115: The Outsider

  Another week, another trip to the trenches, fellow monsterologists. This time though I have to warn you to prepare yourself. Our subjects this week are from beyond this world, bound by ink and paper straight from the demented and brilliant mind of H.P. Lovecraft himself. Just to look at these monsters drives people mad…so of course we’ll be covering three selections this week. Without further ado let’s dive into my favorite story from this week, The Outsider.

            One of my biggest complaints about reading stories this old is sometimes its quite easy to get lost in the writing style. The words kind of blur together in a work trying too hard to pass itself off as a non-fictional account, and I’ve been known to nod off on occasion. I didn’t have this problem with The Outsider though. By using a closed first person account the story flows quite nicely, more so than the other two stories I thought. The only real problem I had with it was Lovecraft’s choice of the words “seemingly” or “apparently”, especially when describing the protagonist’s ascent through the tower. In doing so he let on too early the twist about the tower.

            Lovecraft managed to immerse you in the scenery exceptionally well too. He does this by actually making the details a part of the narrative. The further the protagonist gets along on his journey the more details are revealed about the strange world and circumstances around him. Some of the more physical aspects of the world such as the monster’s description do fall under the category of “indescribable”, something that happens frequently in Lovecraft’s work, but his use of setting and mood throughout are spot on.

            A lot of the other Lovecraftian stories I’ve read haven’t left me with a real sense of character. Sometimes they come off as diluted, as they’re written in an era where point of view isn’t defined as it is today. Often times the narrative will take place in almost a detached fashion from the character. This is not so in The Outsider, and in some ways, it makes the narrative ahead of its time.

            The story also still feels pretty fresh and original, at least when you consider it without it’s stylistic overgarments. That’s right, we’re looking at this story in it’s birthday suit, it’s the only way you learn! It does have the classic twist ending that’s consistent with a lot of pulp horror, and I doubt that it’s the first story where the protagonist is revealed to be a monster all along. However, it’s still not so common a technique for the story to come off as cliché. Making it even more original is that even after the monster’s revealed, there is still a sense of sympathy that goes along with the protagonist.

            It’s this sympathy that also leads to deeper themes that you will find in a lot of older pulp fiction. In some ways the story is an exploration of death and loneliness. All the protagonist wants to do is belong, yet when he reaches out to people, he is shunned and even finds himself horrifying. Part of the theme could also that no matter how different we are, on a whole, humans are not so different from one another. Granted, given Lovecraft’s well documented racist beliefs (even by 1920’s standards) I doubt that’s what he was going for. But at the same time, I’m all for  any interpretation that may stick in the craw of a racist ghost.

Monsterology 114: Godzilla (2014)

  Another week, another trip to the trenches, fellow monsterologist and let’s just…hang on a second. This isn’t a trench, it’s a footprint! That’s right, this week we’ll be covering the king of all kaiju Godzilla…*cough* the American version. Whoa, slow down, no need to go fleeing down the streets of Tokyo just yet. This is the 2014 version, which is better than the 1998 in every…well, most ways.

            My nephews and niece were visiting this weekend and they range in ages from sixteen to…I don’t know, five or something. I’m not a great uncle. Anyways, the middle two boys decided to watch the movie with me. Or they did for the first half hour with frequent bouts of “Where’s Godzilla?” before bailing on me. At first, I told them about the value of patience, but after an hour I found myself asking the same thing. This movie is a bit of a trudge, and while the monster fights are pretty awesome, there’s a lot of buildup to them. I even felt ripped off that they spend that hour working toward Godzilla’s first confrontation with the MUTO, only to cut away to the fight popping up on the evening news for a few seconds, and then boom, that’s it. First fight’s over, here’s the aftermath for you.

            I’ll be honest, I don’t think Americans are great at making kaiju movies. There’s not really a need for all that build up to the monster’s reveal. It’s called Godzilla, we know Godzilla is going to be in it, that’s why we paid for the ticket, just show us some Godzilla. And no, screen footage from sixty years prior to the movie’s start doesn’t count.

            The human characters were pretty fleshed out as far as Godzilla movies go. But I think one of the problems with pacing was because of the amount of time dedicated to the humans. I also question the judgement of killing off that brand of human versatility that is Bryan Cranston so early in the movie. I mean, he dies not even knowing about Godzilla. That’s like killing off Walter White before he knows about crystal meth.

Like most I stumbled across the depths of Cranston’s portrayal through Breaking Bad, and when you contrast that with his comedic roots, it reveals a remarkable range for an actor. One things I’ve come to respect the most about him though is no matter if it’s Malcom in the Middle or Godzilla he always gives his best. Then they kill him and we’re stuck following Quicksilver around for the rest of the movie. I can’t help but think that it would have been more interesting through Cranston’s character’s eyes, a scientist, rather than a soldier’s. I’d rather it be knowledge that saved the day than a retro-bomb.

            That said I felt pretty immersed in the movie. The monsters were designed great, and while I’m sure there was some CGI chicanery at foot, it didn’t feel like that for the most part. Set design also did a remarkable job of making the areas look devastated and war torn or…monster torn I guess.

            I also enjoyed some of the originality they used to explain Godzilla’s origins. Usually he’s a dinosaur that survived massive extinction and was altered by nuclear testing. This time around though it seems like he pre-dates that and fed off nuclear energy and radiation. I felt like that made a lot of sense, because what could these animals use as a food source? I just figured that blue whales were even more endangered in Godzilla’s universe than ours.

 It was also interesting to see him as a hero align to his 60’s and 70’s portrayal, but in a setting that was closer in tone to the original Godzilla or Godzilla 1985. His position as a guardian of balance also reminded me of more benevolent kaiju, such as Gamera. And for you guys who don’t know Gamera, check him out. Giant turtle that flies around shooting rockets out of his shell. Classic.

            However, I also felt like this originality robbed the movie of some deeper thematic meaning. Usually Godzilla is a representation of science unchecked and toppling humanity’s position at the top of the food chain. This time around though he was more of an ally which seems to suggest a harmonious relationship with human’s progress and nature. And these two things that don’t necessarily fit hand in hand together, which kind of made it seem contradictory.

            Overall this was not my favorite Godzilla movie. It kind of has that odor of something trying to be deeper than a monster smash ‘em up and only meeting the goal half way. The slow pace also makes it an action movie with degrade satisfaction, which is not why most people watch action movies. However, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours, and this is a better treatment of the king than previous American attempts.

Monsterology 113: Snow

Once more into these monstrous trenches, fellow monsterologists. And I hope you didn’t pack up the parkas and snow boots from last week’s artic track. Granted Iowa may not be as cold as last week’s Antarctica, but there’s more than snowmen and angels in them there drifts. In some ways the stakes in Ronald Malfi’s Snow are even higher than Carpenter’s Thing. What do you do when a menacing threat arrives in the guise of an everyday occurrence? Would you even notice before it’s too late?

            I found the pacing of Snow to be more or less on point. I did feel like Malfi’s introduction at the start of the novel gave him permission to dawdle in the airport and the road to Woodson a bit more than he needed to. Besides that though, Malfi has some things in his prose that irked me. I don’t think a single character says the word “yeah”, but always “yes”, they always introduce themselves by their first and last name, and he opts to spell some phrases as their spoken like “gonna” and “wanna.” This especially effected his dialogue, which felt clunky and artificial in some places.

            His characters though were pretty fleshed out, and all the point of view characters had a backstory that was explored somewhat. This gave a deeper connection to the characters, and they weren’t all fodder in waiting. However, there were some things that irked me here as well. Shawna was an integral character, she opens up the story, she clues the characters in on what’s happening, she survives longer than all of them, and puts her own life on the line to save them. Yet her death happens away from the group, and I felt like if she had to die, it should’ve been in front of Todd for more emotional impact. The romance was better crafted than in Breeding Ground, so much so it felt odd that the end seemed to hint at Todd reconciling with his ex-wife and Kate with Gerald. And while we’re on the subject, can we have a pregnant woman in a horror book or movie that’s not a heinous bitch?

            The monsters were fairly original. Clearly Malfi’s seen the The Thing, the wintery setting and the monsters imitating humans were indications of that. Yet there were also elements of vampires and zombies interwoven into them, yet Malfi only borrowed the barest essence of them. More importantly, he managed to put his own spin on the monsters, wrapped them in a familiar element, and made them entirely his own. I did think it was odd though that the snowthings were looking for heat, but that was also the same thing that killed them. Guess it’s kind of like alcohol for them. Drink responsibly, everyone.   

            Where the book shines the most though is Malfi’s ability to set a scene. I haven’t been so immersed in a book in a long time. In addition to describing characters and locations in vivid detail, Malfi also paid attention to smell, sound, and especially touch, which is necessary for a book set in winter. The only description where I felt like he dropped the ball was when he first described the faceless child. He says she has no face and left it at that. I thought he meant her face had been scalped off. and I was visualizing a bloody maw at first.I think he even referred to it as a pumpkin or jack lantern, which enforced that image. I didn’t realize he meant more like The Question from DC Comics until later.

            Overall, I enjoyed Snow very much. Malfi’s writing does have some flaws, but his monsters feel familiar but new. I think it could easily double as a craft book on how to immerse your readers into the setting, and is worth checking out.

Monsterology 112: The Thing

            Well, fellow monsterologist, I hope you like cold weather. This week’s trenches are that of an Artic tundra, and these tracks are…well, I’m not sure what to make of them. One moment they’re a dog’s, the next they’re human, but which human? Who can you trust, who is your fellow researcher, and who is…the thing? Laying it on pretty thick, I know, so I’ll cut to the quick, this week we have John Carpenter’s The Thing.

            At the heart of any story is the characters, right? Well, if that’s the case, then The Thing has a pretty slow pulse. Part of that can’t be helped, I think there’s something like twelve victims…sorry, researchers, that call the artic research base home. The movie is less than two hours long so it would have been impossible to get a feel for all of them, and unfortunately, most of them fall into stereotypes huddled together waiting to die. I will say that most of these stereotypes were performed well by the cast.

Acting aside, the characters in question are some Grade A dumdums. Whether it’s that baffling miss-toss of a grenade from the Norwegian researcher at the beginning, having a private conversation about the dead bodies still being alive away from the people handing the dead bodies, or beginning to Molotov cocktail the hell out of the building before checking to see if the generators were salvageable, well, I questioned a lot of their logic. Come to think of it, just who were these guys working for anyways and what were they researching? The effects of boundless amounts if alcohol, weed, and firearms in Artic conditions?

Sort of doing a reverse An American Werewolf in London blog post this time. I got what didn’t work for me out of the way first, because I thought everything else was great. I was immersed in the movie and the setting. I was hooked from the point where they entered the Norwegian base and discovered the mutilated body with the frozen shards of blood. One thing I’m learning about me is that I have a love with pre-computer-generated effects, and The Thing is no exception. The effects have held up well, and they filled me with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach that didn’t go away until after the movie was over. My mom threw up during Evil Dead, and I think this movie would have her running to the bathroom more than once. I have to say too that the severed head effects must have come a long way in the three years between The Thing and Alien.

The effects are so effective that they probably could have stood on their own, but there’s also a layer of psychological fear interwoven with the movie. Once its revealed that The Thing could be anyone the researchers began to turn on each other, and at any point, are moments away from killing each other. Even Kurt Russell’s MacReady, the closest thing to a hero in the movie, does questionable acts that many would find less than noble. Even though they weren’t noble though, his actions felt authentic.

Since watching the movie I’ve done a little research on it (if Wikipedia counts as research) and I was surprised to find that it was initially poorly received ,both theatrically and by critics. One of the reasons hypothesized for this is because of its bleak tone, especially since it was released the same year as E.T. Frankly, it seems like it was originally hated for the same reason why I loved it. There are no heroes in this movie, I loved that, and it’s so nihilistic and bleak and its captured perfectly by the ending.

I can’t recommend The Thing enough. You do have to overlook some questionable and, let’s face it, downright stupid actions by the characters. Once you get past that though you have a film that manages to merge perfectly practical effect scares with psychological terrors of paranoia and fear of the unknown. The movie may have once suffered from poor reviews, but now its regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi horror films of all time, an opinion that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Monsterology 111: An American Werewolf in London

Another week and another trip to the trenches, fellow monsterolgoists. And once again we have some familiar tracks, the telltale mixture of wolf and human that marks our sometimes friend, sometimes foe,all depending on the moon cycle, the werewolf. John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London teaches us that it’s not just small towns that have to beware the moon, but our largest cities too. Watch for the signs, if you see a man streaking with a bunch of strategically placed balloons, it’s time to move.

            First off, I have to give this movie props for its special effects, even more so than Alien. As impressive as the xenomorph was, I think it was probably easier to construct than David’s metamorphosis from human to wolf. The way his hands stretched and how his body contorted, oh man, that was so painful and gruesome. Again, this was all before computer-generated images and I think the effects have aged well. Although there were times were the fangs came off a bit too rubbery. Jack’s appearance as the torn apart spirit was also perfect, although it did look more believable when he was fresh versus after he began to rot. The gore and blood splatter in general seemed more realistic than some recent movies, and it goes a long way of immersing you in the movie. I just wish everything else was met by the same standard.

            Most of the characters seemed pretty flat. I’m torn between David Naughton’s portrayal of David Kessler. He just seems like a bland jokester without much to add to the role. That said, he was able to convey a real sense of agony during his transformation sequences. I felt sorry for the guy while he was going through the transformation, and in no small part because of Naughton’s screams. This leads me to believe that Naughton was doing the best with the script provided to him, it just didn’t give him much range between comedic 80’s bro and tortured victim of the supernatural.

The rest of the characters didn’t seem to have much basis for their decisions, they just bent whatever way the plot needed them to bend. I’m not sure why Alex fell head over heels for David, neither was I sure why the doctor suddenly went to the Slaughtered Lamb to investigate, or what he encountered that made him so sure that David’s story was true.

          The narrative left me with a lot of questions about the character’s decision as well. David’s in a coma for three weeks in a foreign country, and his parents never come to visit him? And why is the village plagued by a werewolf at all? The villagers are able to dispatch of him shortly after the opening scene, silver bullets aren’t even necessary to kill it. Why couldn’t they have done that all along? And if the current werewolf is haunted by visions of people killed by werewolves, not just people they’ve killed as evident by Jack’s appearance, then shouldn’t the roster of ghosts stalking David be a lot more than his best buddy and his latest victims? Maybe they rotted into nothingness, oh, and why do they rot and if so, after three weeks shouldn’t Jack already have begun to rot? When he first bump into David he looks he got killed an hour ago.

            The movie also felt like a jumbled mismatch of conflicting tones. We’ve talked before about how hard it is to find the right balance between horror and comedy, and while I enjoy Animal House as much as the next guy, it felt like Landis failed to find the right balance. At some points the movies trying to be horror, other times comedy, and oddly enough it seems to try and squeeze romance in there too. Yet the conflicting elements are never balanced properly, they just seem to abruptly change course without explanation, as suddenly as the movie’s abrupt end. It wasn’t helped any by the jarring dream sequences that were sometimes interjected without explanation or transition, then abruptly stop after David leaves the hospital. It wasn’t helped either by the apparent desire to inject every song with the word “moon” in it into the soundtrack. I get it, it’s a werewolf movie. I got that from the title.

            All in all, this movie was not my favorite horror movie, it wasn’t even my favorite Landis movie. Still, the effects have stood the test of time even if the jokes haven’t. I would recommend everyone who writes horror to see it, if for no other reason than those werewolf transformations. They convey the pain and gruesomeness of shifting so well, something that’s overlooked in the genre today. Actually, scratch that. I definitely recommend it for those scenes and no other reason.